Researchers at the University of Manchester in England found that a drug created to treat osteoporosis promotes human hair growth.
Today, minoxidil is US Food and Drug Administration-approved for the treatment of both male and female pattern baldness; finasteride is FDA-approved for male pattern baldness and sometimes used off-label for hair loss in women.
There are only two drugs now on the market that claim to treat male-pattern balding (androgenetic alopecia) - however both have known side-effects and often produce disappointing results.
"We were able to conduct our experiments with scalp hair follicles that had generously been donated by over 40 patients and were then tested in organ cultures", said Nathan Hawkshaw who led the study.
The researchers initially looked at the drug Cyclosporine A, used to treat autoimmune diseases and prevent transplant rejection, as an alternative for hair loss treatment. In the US, there are around 50 million men and 30 million women affected by hair loss, which United Kingdom -based researchers said could be the source of "psychological distress".
The compound in the drug, known as WAY-316606, targeted a protein that acts as a blocker for hair growth and plays a key role in baldness. But this drug also causes serious side effects including kidney damage.
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Upon analysing the drug, the researchers found CsA reduces the protein SFRP1 in the body, which inhibits the growth of hair follicles. The research work finds its way into the journal named Public Library of Science Biology.
Ultimately, a permanent hair loss solution will be found in some form of stem cell treatment, Day believes: "When there's money to be made, there's research that's going to be done".
Hawkshaw said the next step should be a clinical trial to determine whether WAY-316606, or similar compounds, are effective and safe. The brittle bone drug formulation was administered to the hair follicles for six consecutive days.
Researchers were looking to develop novel ways for human hair growth, and their approach was to firstly identify the molecular mechanisms of an old immunosuppressive drug, Cyclosporine A (CsA).